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HomeENT conditionsEar infections, Hearing loss and Balance disorders › Ear Infection Causes & Symptoms

Ear Infection Causes & Symptoms

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection can occur in the outer, middle or inner ear and is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Outer ear infections, sometimes called swimmer’s ear or otitis externa, affect the external ear canal between the ear lobe and the ear drum. A common type of ear infection occurs in the middle ear (otitis media), which is located directly behind the eardrum. An infection of the inner ear affects the hearing (cochlea) and balance organ (vestibulum).

Middle ear infections cause inflammation, fluid, and pain in the ear. Acute ear infections are often painful, short in duration and, once treated, usually resolve with no damage to the ear. Chronic ear infections are also painful, but symptoms may be long term or recurring, and can cause permanent damage to the ear if not treated correctly.

What causes ear infections?

Outer ear infection (otitis externa) often results from exposure to moisture. It is common in children, teens, and adults who spent a lot of time swimming in pools or the sea. It can also occur if the thin layer of skin in the external ear canal is injured. Intense scratching or using cotton swabs in the ear can damage this delicate skin.

Middle ear infection (otitis media) are caused when the passage between the middle ear and nose (Eustachian tube), is blocked and unable to keep bacteria from entering the middle ear space. Middle ear infections are usually a secondary illness caused by other conditions such as upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), sinus infections, enlarged or infected adenoids and excessive mucus (runny nose).

Inner ear infection can be caused by a variety of factors. It is most commonly caused due to viral infection such as from influenza or common cold virus or due to bacterial infection. Inner ear infection can also result as a complication of bacterial meningitis or acute otitis media.

What are symptoms of an ear infection?

Symptoms of outer, middle and inner ear infection almost always include ear pain, otorrhea (fluid draining from external ear canal), loss of hearing, dizziness and vertigo.

What are the risk factors for an ear infection?

There are some conditions that make a child or an adult more prone to getting an ear infection. Some risk factors include recent illness, especially upper respiratory tract or sinus infections, frequent exposure to pool and sea water, smoking or second-hand smoke, use of pacifiers and age (young children have less sharply angled eustachian tubes). Also, a stressful life can be a contributing factor for an inner ear infection.

When should I see a doctor for an ear infection?

Consult an ear, nose and throat expert with ENT in Cayman Ltd. as soon as possible if following symptoms of an ear infection persist for longer than 24 hours: bloody discharge from the ear, severe ear pain, a child is suffering from irritation or restlessness following a cold or a child has symptoms listed above and is under 6 months of age.

How does an ENT doctor diagnose an ear infection?

Doctors at ENT in Cayman Ltd. can often detect redness, puss, drainage, or other abnormalities in the middle ear that point to an ear infection by using a microscope. To determine the severity of the condition, your doctor may also conduct cotton swab and hearing tests or X-ray exams.

How is an ear infection treated?

Treatment for all sort of ear infection from ENT in Cayman Ltd. can range from conservative measures at home to prescription drugs or surgery, depending on the severity of the infection. Treatment options for ear infections include cleaning the outer ear by rinsing with warm water, installation of topical antibiotics (ear drops), oral antibiotics and the prescription of decongestants.

If you are suffering from repeated ear infections, you may want to schedule an evaluation with an experienced ear, nose and throat doctor.

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